Live Review: Kenny Liner & Caleb Stine @ The 8×10 (2009.12.08)


It was a “blink and you’ll miss it” kind of collaboration, a mid week set by two friends.  It was a collaboration of two of Baltimore’s most genuine songwriters, playing together without the safety of their bands.  A couple of stools, a mandolin, an acoustic guitar, two songwriters, and a list of songs were the only things needed this evening.

The pairing of songwriters was a simple one, “He likes my songs, I like his songs,” explained Kenny Liner, mandolinist of The Bridge, about his musical ally for the evening, singer/songwriter Caleb Stine.   After being offered the show, Liner called his friend and asked him to play. One rehearsal later the pair was seated on a couple of stools on stage at The 8×10, a piece of notebook paper on the floor between them with a list of potential songs for them to play.092

It was a loose evening, with Liner and Stine chatting between songs to figure out what to play next from the list at their feet. Liner’s tunes dominated the set with simple, stripped down arrangements that he and Stine worked up together, showing a different side than they normally do.  Many of Liner’s songs have their roots in the heart of Appalachia with their bluegrass soul, and the addition of Stine, with his outlaw cowboy personality, brought an authentic countrified feel to them.  Liner touched on all realms of his extensive repertoire, working from one of his oldest songs (“Chains”) to a pair of newer songs (“Dirtball Blues” and “Born Ramblin”), the latter of which included a new verse imploring the crowd for a shot of whiskey.  The highlight of the night though, was the rare Bridge tune “Flats of the Old Avenue.”  Seldom played in a full-band setting, its appearance in the even rarer Liner solo set was made even more special, as the mandolinist took a turn on the song’s lead vocals for the first time ever.

047 Stine’s three song contribution to the night was slightly different.  A take on “Lonesome Kid” early in the set was the only previously known song Stine played.  At the urging of Liner, Stine broke out two brand new, still-unfinished-unnamed tunes that Liner had heard and asked him to play.  This proved a rare opportunity to take a peek inside the inner workings of Stine as a songwriter; he readily admitted being hesitant to play new songs in front of a crowd until they are completed.  Thankfully, Liner coaxed him into it and he changed his mind.  Both immediately found a home in Stine’s deep catalog.  The stronger of the two as-yet-unnamed songs found Stine singing about playing a simple song in the key of D, and like most of Stine’s work it was an achingly powerful rumination on life that seemed to tug ever so gently at your emotions.

Despite the presence of gloriously reworked songs and devastatingly beautiful debuts, the night was about the two songwriters and what they did together. Nothing seemed to highlight this more than the handful of covers they included in their set.  A playful take by Liner on the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer,” and a soulful romp by Stine through Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You,” showcased each individual’s strengths.  But it was the mid-set inclusion of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” that found the pair trading verses, and gave a brief glimpse of their combined power. A power born from a simple place, and delivered for a simple reason, that Liner explains: “We are friends, it is just for fun.”

And that was more than enough reason.


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2 Responses to “Live Review: Kenny Liner & Caleb Stine @ The 8×10 (2009.12.08)”

  1. Daily Breather says:

    Nice review. Makes me even sorrier I missed it.

  2. [...] Opening up for The Bridge, Caleb and Kenny will play a duo set this Saturday, March 13, at 8pm. Here’s an Aural States review of the last time they played together. [...]

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